To many people, Oct. 2 holds no claim to any notable anniversaries. However, this day is actually much more important to our culture than we might realize. On Oct. 2, 1950, a comic strip drawn by Charles Schulz named Peanuts began syndication in newspapers, eventually growing into one of the most iconic comic strips of all time and paving the way for every other graphic work which followed. Even today, the concerns of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy and a host of other characters seem so timeless and universal that it is astounding to believe that they have existed for almost 70 years.
Though Peanuts has been read and loved since its debut, it was only in 2004 that a comprehensive effort to collect every strip came to fruition. Beginning that year, Fantagraphics Books began publishing The Complete Peanuts, the first time in history that every Peanuts strip has been published in one place. While comics aficionados rejoiced, there was still one notable omission: Every strip was printed in black and white, including the Sunday strips, which had originally been published in color. These same strips had been published in color elsewhere, but these versions generally used a completely different color scheme than the originals had, robbing them of the crisp, pastel-heavy quality they used to boast. Fortunately, Fantagraphics came to the rescue once again with another new series: Peanuts Every Sunday, which publishes every Sunday strip in its original color scheme to give readers the same experience as seeing them for the first time. Now, the seventh volume has just been published in time for Peanuts’ 69th anniversary, covering the years from 1981 to 1985. One might think that it is unnecessary to publish yet another collection of strips that have appeared in no fewer than 30 anthologies over time; however, these new books not only reaffirm the timeless greatness of Peanuts, but also comics as an art form.
Charles Schulz always possessed an uncanny ability to spin humor from moments that are otherwise anticlimactic or sad for the characters involved; he retained this talent for his entire career, as this volume confirms. In one strip, Peppermint Patty is overjoyed to see that she has finally received an “A” on her report card until Marcie tells her that it is only part of the word “card” printed on the top; in another, Snoopy and Woodstock attempt to test the claim that a squirrel could travel from treetop to treetop from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River during colonial times, only to fall to the ground and hit the tops of their heads in the process. The many witticisms, musings and clever punchlines of these strips are accentuated by their fresh, bright colors; the artwork stands out on the page just as much as the writing stays in the mind of the reader after simply a glance. These moments also belie the emotional complexity of Peanuts — Schulz does not go for an easy or predictable laugh, but rather one rooted in our most basic insecurities and thoughtful discussions. Even though all of these characters are children, they effortlessly parallel the cares of adulthood.
Through revisiting these comic strips, one is not only reminded of the complexity and importance of Peanuts but also of comics as a whole. Cartooning is a polarizing form of art; described by some people as an “utterly disposable format” and considered to be a negative influence on children, it has fought a decades-long battle with the general public to be taken seriously and regarded as an equal form of art. Even today, people still scoff at the notion that a comic book possesses the same power to tell a serious story that may enter into the echelons of literature. Peanuts, with its thoughtful and pensive subject matter, is one of the main reasons why cartooning has elevated as an art form to a stature where it can finally be taken seriously. At a time when comic strips engaged in gag-a-day, slapstick humor, Charles Schulz decided instead to create a comic strip much truer to life; it is a study in human emotion, insecurity and suffering, and it speaks to its audience in so many more ways than its contemporaries could. Most cartoonists who came afterward took these lessons and used them to drive their work, but as long as these comic strips are still easily accessible, it will forever remain apparent that there will never truly be another work that can match the pathos, wit and reflection on life itself as Peanuts.
John Colie is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].